Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


My day as a telemarketer

Not another, not another, not another…

BEEP. Dammit.

“Hello, is Mr. Anderon available?”


“You mean Doctor Anderson ?” the receptionist asks.

“Umm, yeah, that’s right.” My self-respect sinks even lower.

She puts me on hold. Thank God. My only moments of calm arrive when some merciful receptionist tells me to wait while she transfers, or pretends to transfer, my call. One time I stayed on hold for almost ten minutes, savoring the relief from the incessant spiritual torture. Then my overseer walked behind me, and I had to end the call.

My day as a telemarketer was not supposed to be my day as a telemarketer. It was supposed to be my day of “verifying information for national trade publications” at a publishing firm. It sounded great – good pay, lasting all summer, working with other college students. And verifying information? How hard could that be?

I arrived Monday morning with a few other college kids and one red-haired older woman, Lena, who made it exceedingly clear that she could not work afternoons every other Tuesday because she had to see the podiatrist for her bunions. We were herded into a small conference room by our supervisor, Mike, who gave us all a warm-up quiz of lame riddles he probably lifted from candy wrappers or Popsicle sticks. He was the poster boy for the late-forties middle manager, the kind of guy who got beaten up daily in middle school and compensates now by fancying himself Lord Mike, Overseer and Beloved King of the Telemarketing Drones. I was nervous already.

But it wasn’t until he actually passed out the “scripts” that the nightmare truly began. I realized this was not “verifying information” but trying to dupe people into agreeing to four free issues of “National Gaming Summary,” the “number one weekly resource for information about the gaming industry.”

It got worse. According to the script, I would have say such brilliant deal-closers as “your competitor is probably receiving ‘National Gaming Summary’ every week!” and “THERE’S NO RISK, and NO OBLIGATION!” Only if the customer asked me directly was I to mention that the annual cost of this worthless publication was $400, or that the customer would have to begin paying this bill in one month unless they somehow remembered to write the company and request cancellation.

I felt as if I had entered some slimy nether-world, and my rational mind told me to leave right then – but I didn’t. I followed the group out of the meeting room and upstairs to the cubicle hell that was the telemarketing department, still half-believing I would wake up from the nightmare.

Unfortunately, I only descended deeper into it. Each of us were instructed to sit in front of a computer screen and wear a headset connected to a telephone line. Each computer was connected to “the Dialer,” the endless database of names, addresses, and phone numbers that would automatically make phone calls. When someone answered on the other line, the Dialer quickly transferred the call to one of the computers, and the pseudo-human sitting in front of it would hear a loud beep in their headphones. With the name and address of the customer/victim displayed on the screen, we were to go through the script verbatim and attempt to make the sale.

There were three female telemarketers working already when we arrived, all in their sixties and each, I would soon discover, somewhat less-than-sane in her own way. One woman hummed constantly and sat with her face no more than three inches from the computer screen. Another spoke each syllable of the script as if it was its own sentence, like a machine, taking her more than a minute to get through one paragraph. The senior telemarketer, who had been doing it for two years, giggled wickedly every time someone hung up on her. I felt like I had walked into the employment junkyard, the last resort for those who simply could not get a job anywhere else – and in a strong economy, that junkyard was visibly barren.

I finally sat down in front of my computer screen, and the nightmare became real. I waited for less than three seconds before I heard the first beep, looked up at the computer screen, and thoughtlessly asked the microphone if Mr. Dole was available.

“Sen. Dole left Congress more than five years ago. This is no longer his office.” Click.

Thus was my first step of humiliation, a pattern that would continue throughout the day as the computer provided me with the phone numbers for the deceased, wrong numbers and misspellings of simple names like Anderson.

I had become what I despised, and every second in front of that computer I felt my self-respect crumbling. I was slowly being turned into a machine. After each call, I had to click on a button to classify the result: “SALE,” “NOT INTERESTED,” “REMOVE FROM LIST” OR “CALL BACK LATER.” If I did not, the headphones would begin beeping, increasing in volume until it was painful, ordering me to get back to work. After clicking the button, it was only a matter of seconds before the next beep indicated another call. I was slowly becoming a slave to the Dialer.

I tried to have normal conversations with people – it was all I could do to remain sane amidst the loud beeps and vigilant eyes of the computer and the Overseer. By the afternoon, I rebelled. I told customers the price of the publication right away, and most hung up. If anyone asked to take a message, I gave them Mike’s name and phone number. And I just watched the clock, wondering whether those sixty-year-old women nearby were crazy before they were telemarketers – or if they had just allowed themselves to be broken by the Dialer.

I left the office for the last time that time, feeling numb. I went home, cracked a beer without even thinking about it and called the office to say I wouldn’t be back.

Later that week, I got a call from some southern-sounding woman from some credit card company, wondering if Matthew Link was available. I smiled, asked her if she could hold on for just a moment, and left the phone on the counter for ten minutes.

Wherever she was, I’m sure she thanked me.

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